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[Blu-ray Review] Eugenio Derbez Makes The Leap To US Stardom In ‘How to Be a Latin Lover’

Eugenio Derbez has been a big deal in Mexico for a long time now. He has written, directed, produced and created some of the most popular Spanish language television shows of all time. He’s a Mexican comedy king and in 2014 Variety nabbed him as the most influential Hispanic male in the world. What I’m trying to say here is that Derbez is a pretty big deal. With that said, his crossover success in the US hasn’t fully launched yet, at least not amongst the English speaking crowd.

In 2013 he had a massive hit on his hands with Instructions Not Included. It became the highest grossing Spanish langue film released in the US of all time and the 4th highest grossing foreign film of all time. In Mexico it shattered records as well becoming the highest grossing Mexican made film ever made. Still, he’s gone unnoticed with most English speaking audiences. Maybe you’ve seen him in Jack and Jill or Girl in Progress, but only in bit parts. His most recent, How to Be a Latin Lover — which is now available on Blu-ray — made start to change the tide a bit.

Derbez stars as Maximo, a former Mexican gigolo that after spending better part of his youth seducing older women on vacation settles down and marries Peggy (Renée Taylor) — a much older wealthy woman. With this marriage Maximo has completed his childhood dream of living an extremely wealthy life without having to lift a finger. Flash forward 25 years and Maxmio isn’t the young stallion he once was. He’s put on a little weight and his overall looks have waned, but none of that matters because he’s living a life of luxury. He also lives an amazingly lazy life. He steps out of bed and onto a hover board, essentially never walking. He even lounges by the pool in a lazier fashion than most, having butlers turn him away from the sun.

On this particular day that Maximo wakes up it’s the day of his 25th wedding anniversary. Of course, Maximo doesn’t have the slightest clue. When Peggy reminds him of this fact he fakes and pretends like he has plans to go by her a new car — a new car that will be purchased with Peggy’s money. Maximo and Peggy head to the dealership to look for a car and Peggy falls for the dealer, played by Michael Cera with a sort of not quite sleazy but not quite smooth but somewhere in between attitude. Maximo ends up out on the streets with no money, no skills and nowhere to turn.

Maximo first turns to his best friend Rick (Rob Lowe). Rick is just like Maximo, he was a gigolo that married wealthy. Rick would love to help Maximo, but unfortunately he doesn’t have an extra room in his mansion. Rick’s elderly wife has a strong sexual appetite and loves to role play so Rick has to keep all rooms available.

Now desperate, Maximo turns to his little sister, Sara (Salma Hayek). Maximo and Sara haven’t seen each other in years and Sara is not pleased with him stopping by. He doesn’t even know his 10-year-old nephew, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Sara reluctantly agrees to let Maximo stay with them but he must get a job. Maximo’s plan is to find a new rich, elderly wife.

How to Be a Latin Lover isn’t a perfect comedy. Some of the jokes don’t quite land and it’s a little on the long end. But these two things are really my only complaints and they’re quite minor in the grand scheme of things. How to Be a Latin Lover is an incredibly charming and warm comedy that I rather loved.

The film is the feature length directorial debut of the wonderful Ken Marino. On the Blu-ray special features he indicates that this was a for-hire job and not his script, but you can see his influence still throughout — particularly with the casting decisions. Despite not writing the film, Marion handles the material quite well. The film finds its rhythm early on and is paced nicely, even if he does run a tad too long. The film has  a ton of heart, especially as the relationship between Maximo and Hugo begins to grow, but it never shies away from the jokes. It’s very even balanced.

I mentioned that some of the jokes don’t work, and that’s true, but most of them do with a number of them working really well. The opening sequence of Maximo’s father crashing his semi-truck through their home and then shouting “I’m ok” just seconds before the truck blows up killing him is hysterical. Right off the bat the film lets you know what you’re in for. It’s going to be silly, it’s going to be goofy, but it’s also going to be a ton of fun.

There are a lot of standout performances throughout the film, many of them coming in small bursts. I don’t want to point them all out because they’re better suited to come as little surprises but I will say Kristen Bell is hilarious as a manager of a frozen yogurt shop that takes in stray cats. So she’s sort of a crazy cat lady but not entirely. She lights up the screen every moment she appears.

The movie wasn’t a huge release by any stretch of the imagination but it did pull in $32 million in the US on a $10 million budget which is quite good. Overall it made $62 million worldwide which qualifies as a smashing success giving the film’s budget. The film’s box office success should pay dividends down the road. Marino should have no problem getting more work as a director and hopefully this means Derbez gets more English friendly lead parts.

Speaking of Derbez, he is absolutely the film’s star. While other bit characters pop up here and there, Derbez is our guiding force. Even when Maximo does something that should make you angry you can’t be angry because he’s so lovable. That’s all part of Derbez’s charm. He can easily be a crossover star and I’m hoping that How to Be a Latin Lover catches on more with the home video release and launches him into the spotlight. He’s well deserving.

The scenes with Derbez and Hayak are worth a mention. The two have great chemistry and nail the brother/sister dynamic. A nice little touch I really enjoyed is that whenever Maximo and Sara are alone together they speak in only Spanish. That’s something that feels real and genuine. It’s a little thing with a big impact.

The Blu-ray of How to Be a Latin Lover is actually pretty loaded for a modern film that isn’t from Marvel or something of that ilk. There’s an audio commentary with Marino where he is joined by producer Ben Odell and editor John Daigle. I actually haven’t watched this yet, but since Marion is on board, I’m down. There’s a featured called “Show Me Your Sexy,” which is basically a digital press kit. This is cool because it features some quality clips from the film and interviews from a bunch of the cast and crew. The stuff here with Derbez and Hayak is really great because they talk about their relationship off screen and how that translated on screen. There are 30 minutes of deleted scenes and extended scenes. And then by personal favorite is an 11-minute feature on Marino on how he got a bunch of his friends in the movie.

How to Be a Latin Lover isn’t perfect but damn is it good. It’s over-the-top hilarious at times and charming throughout. It’s a nice blend of Mexican and American comedy and absolutely something worth your time. I can’t recommend this one enough.

How to Be a Latin Lover is now available on Blu-ray from Lionsgate.

 

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